Plans to give local authorities the power to change Sunday trading hours are a blow for independent shops, says the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, whose members supply and support about 72,000 retail businesses.
Shops in England and Wales could be allowed to open for longer on Sundays, under plans to be unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne in his emergency Budget tomorrow (July 8).
The proposal could give elected mayors and councils powers to relax laws locally if “it boosts economic activity.”
Current laws allows smaller shops to open all day, but restrict those over 280 sq m (3,000 sq ft) to six hours. The Treasury pointed to research by the New West End Company – which represents more than 600 businesses in London – that suggested two extra hours of Sunday trading could create nearly 3,000 jobs in the capital. It said such a move would also generate “more than £200m a year in additional sales” in London.
The proposal comes after larger stores and supermarkets were allowed to open for longer on Sundays during the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Mr Osborne said decisions on similar relaxations of the law should be taken at a local level – if officials think longer opening hours would boost economies.
The Chancellor said there was a “growing appetite” for shopping on a Sunday.
“There is some evidence that transactions for Sunday shopping are actually growing faster than those for Saturday. The rise of online shopping, which people can do round the clock, also means more retailers want to be able to compete by opening for longer at the weekend. But this won’t be right for every area, so I want to devolve the power to make this decision to mayors and local authorities.”
But FWD chief executive James Bielby said such a move would take trade away from independent shops which serve local communities if larger stores were allowed to open longer on Sundays.
“This is a baffling move by the Chancellor, one which was not mentioned anywhere during the election campaign,” he said. “There is no compelling evidence to suggest that sales will increase if larger shops are open longer, and even the supermarkets are unconvinced of the value of longer hours. Simply spreading consumer spend over a longer period adds cost to businesses with little extra benefit, but it punishes the smallest operators who have previously had this tiny advantage over the national chains.”
He added: “Like the wholesalers who supply them, independent shops offer variety and individuality on the high street, and play a role in our cultural heritage. Those few extra hours a week where smaller stores can trade without competition from megastores have been a good compromise, and one which the public support. The current law supports entrepreneurs who start and grow local businesses and allowing local authorities to remove this would penalise those ambitious business owners.”
FWD member companies support 1.1m jobs in the food and drink supply chain, including 540,000 in retail. Many of these jobs are part time, with flexible hours, and close to the homes of employees. Many of the shops they supply are in rural or neighbourhood locations, providing vital services on the doorstep of millions of people.
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman added giving local authorities responsibility for setting Sunday trading hours could lead to “inconsistency and confusion” for businesses and shoppers.
Lowman said the same amount of trade would be spread over more hours and would shift from small shops to larger stores.
“The short period of time that small stores are open while large stores are shut is a crucial advantage for convenience stores, most of which are owned by small businesses. Liberalising Sunday trading hours would make some small stores unviable,” he added.
And John Hannett, secretary general of shopworkers’ union USDAW, said the announcement was disappointing, and the union would campaign against the move.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme it would not bring further economic benefits to the country, but would put more pressure on employees.